A 2017 outlook on China-US-Russia trilateral relationship

Zhao Yuming Brexit and Donald Trump being elected US president reflect the public opinion in the West. The rise and prosperity of populism is a characteristic of the “New Normal.” Be it triangle or trilateral, the relationship among China, Russia and the US is steadily developing – the Sino-Russian comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination maintained high-level growth, the relationship between China and the US is generally stable, and Trump’s willingness to improve US ties with Russia has been warmly welcomed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. How the relationship among the three countries will develop in 2017 is worth exploring.

To begin with, Beijing-Moscow strategic cooperation will continue to develop at a high level. A highly-mature and institutionalized comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination has been established between the two countries. China and Russia have similar political and diplomatic appeals – promoting multi-polarization in the world arena. Although Russia may enhance its ties with the US, this will not impede the development of its relationship with China.

China and the US may see disputes on some issues next year, but risks are under control. Apart from criticisms on trade, Trump may challenge Beijing’s bottom line on the One China policy, adding more fuel to the Sino-US relationship. However, there are institutionalized and all-round communication channels between Beijing and Washington to minimize risks.

In addition, Trump was a typical pragmatic businessman who prioritizes interests over ideology. Washington has frequent trade exchanges with Beijing, and needs the latter’s support on a number of international affairs. Deliberately making troubles for China will not only jeopardize the Sino-US relationship, but also harm US economic and diplomatic interests, which is not an ideal choice for Trump.

The US and Russia may have warmer ties in 2017, and are highly likely to cooperate on anti-terrorism operations. While Washington intends to take advantage of Moscow’s experiences and abilities to establish a joint anti-terrorism front to alleviate its own strategic pressure, Moscow attempts to use anti-terrorism cooperation to break the current stalemate and resume ties with the West.

However, observers should not be too optimistic about the Russia-US relationship. The determination to safeguard national interest is the fundamental reason for mutual appreciation between Putin and Trump. Judging from history and reality, Russia and the US always have conflicting interests and diplomatic goals. The crisis of Ukraine and Syria means that there is no basis for Moscow and Washington to forge intimate ties in the short term. Ingrained conflicts make substantial improvement unlikely in the Russia-US relationship.

The future orientation of the relationship among China, Russia and the US will depend on Trump’s diplomatic policies. For his “Make America Great Again” and “America First” ambition, Trump is highly likely to divert attention from foreign investments to domestic construction. To this end, a stable exterior environment is of vital importance, for which support from China and Russia is indispensable.

The US may be increasingly in need of China and Russia in 2017, and thus may be easier to work with. In addition, Trump, as a politician, will have to handle domestic and foreign affairs from a political perspective. His words and deeds will be restricted by US political culture and international order. This means that US foreign policy will not see drastic changes next year.

Above all, the Russia-US relationship may be eased in 2017. The Sino-US relationship may deteriorate but only moderately. The China-Russia relationship will continue its high-speed development.

In other words, the relationship among China, Russia and the US will continue to be stable in 2017.

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